Baptism is Christianity’s most physical sacrament. It’s a whole-body reminder that our old self has died with Christ, and that a new creation has been born. (I Cor. 5:17).
I’ve been thinking of ways to enhance this experience for men, while staying true to scripture. And I’ve got an idea. I call it tap-out baptism, and it allows the candidate to play a more active role. Here’s how it would work.
The minister stands in the water with the candidate, and says all the usual words. Up to this point, nothing is different from a traditional immersion baptism. But then the minister places a hand on the top of the candidate’s head and pushes him straight down into the water as the candidate bends his knees. The minister holds the candidate underwater for as long as the candidate wants to remain submerged. When the candidate “taps out” minister releases his hold and the candidate comes shooting out of the water, to the cheers of those assembled.
Now, before you dismiss this as a crackpot idea, hear me out.
Baptism is a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Holding a limp person underwater for one second doesn’t do this justice. But an extended submersion would be a much closer re-enactment of the Lord’s death and resurrection.
- Burial. Christ’s body was in the ground for three days. That’s a long time, and our baptismal rite should reflect that.
- Pain. Jesus suffered unbearable pain at his death. And when a man holds his breath under water, he also feels a stinging pain in his lungs. This pain is a tangible sign of his old nature suffocating and dying.
- Resurrection. Jesus came out of the ground under his own power. Allowing the candidate to make an energetic exit from the water is a symbol of Jesus’ powerful resurrection, and the power available to us as we follow Christ.
Of course, tap-out baptism would come with a bunch of caveats:
- It’s optional
- The procedure would need to be explained in advance to minimize the risk of injury
- Individuals with certain medical conditions would be baptized in the traditional way
- Instead of dunking backward as we now do, tell the candidate to bend his knees and go straight down. (This body position will keep him from swallowing water or getting it into his nose)
- Encourage the candidate to stay under water until he feels the “old man” dying in his chest. As his discomfort increases, instruct him to pray, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
What will the congregation do while the candidate is submerged? Most people can hold their breath from 30 to 75 seconds without preparing their lungs ahead of time. Why not sing? I’d encourage a songwriter to compose a simple baptismal song or chant with a good beat. Something about death and resurrection. When the candidate comes bursting out of the water, the song abruptly ends and the congregation offers its applause.
I think young men would particularly love this type of baptism. This would be a great form of baptism to use during a men’s retreat. And men being men, I suppose some might compete to see who can stay under the water longest. As long as men understand that a lengthy immersion isn’t any better than a quick one, I don’t think the Lord will mind.
So let me know what you think of this idea…comments are open.